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November 2, 2017

The Big Sick

by Franz Patrick


Big Sick, The (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

For many, “The Big Sick,” directed by Michael Showalter, is a solid picture because the comedy is both consistent and consistently smart—especially for a story with a medically induced coma right in the center of it. While I also share this sentiment, I found myself connecting to the material on a deeper level because I find it has a knack for plastering a goofy smile on my face in nearly every scene, especially during moments of silence between rapid-fire dialogue, because there is honesty even within the pauses. This is a challenge to get exactly right, especially in comedies, and to recognize that it is living upon its potential makes the audience feel good.

Although based on an incredible true story, writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the latter starring as the Pakistani stand-up comic who meets his future wife named Emily (Zoe Kazan) during one of his shows, do not rest on simply recalling unbelievable events to tell the story. Instead, the writers are interested in showing us, rather than telling us, why Kumail and Emily make a great couple even though at times they do not recognize it themselves. This is why the first third of the picture, the meeting of strong personalities, is at its most riotously funny and intriguing. Nanjiani and Kazan share excellent chemistry.

There is also honesty in its portrayal of how it could be like to hook up in modern day America. Numerous mainstream comedies tend to play the extreme card, often highlighting either the shame of having a one-night stand or a hook-up having no consequence at all. Here, it is willing to embrace a range of feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Yes, hook-ups can be awkward. Yes, they can be a lot of fun. And, yes, they can even lead to a meaningful relationship shared by both individuals willing to work at it. The film’s energy, ability to tackle truths, and willingness to show characters as living, breathing people instead of caricatures reminded me of Rob Reiner’s intelligent and hilarious “When Harry Met Sally…”

Another layer of honesty is in how it portrays parents. The material touches upon two sides of the same coin: Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents (Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher) and Emily’s parents who are trying to make a difficult situation work (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano). In the middle section of the picture, notice how the respective parents react to varying situations given a set of challenges shown right after another. We see the parents’ many flaws but at the same time we recognize the fierce love they have for their children. It is expected that these parents would meet eventually, especially since all four command strong personalities, but the picture is not about meeting expectations for the sake of plot.

“The Big Sick” offers small but highly recognizable moments of poignancy. Although Kumail’s situation at home with his parents is played for laughs quite often, it is likely to ring true not just for people of color who grew up in traditional ethnic households but also for everyone whose parents hold a certain level of expectations that must be met—even though the “children” are old enough to make entirely independent decisions on their own. It shows that although one may have moved out of the house entirely, certain dynamics do not change one bit.

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